When Matt Howell and two recently married friends, Peter Ryan and Larry Harte, decided to move in together, they had to find more than just a shared space in Logan Circle — they had to find common ground in aesthetics, too.
“I was a little more traditional, and they were very modern,” the 34-year-old Howell says.
While moving in with friends or a significant other means plenty of togetherness, it also means you have to give up some possessions or adjust your style as you merge multiple lives into one space.
For Howell and the couple, their adjustments began before they moved into their two-story, 1,500-square-foot unit in a Logan Circle rowhouse.
“We went to each other’s places and said what was allowed to come and what was not,” Howell says, adding that they were able to find contemporary pieces they all loved.
For some, reaching that balance is invigorating, if challenging. When Lauren Piel, 29, and her fiance, Joey Abrams, 32, ditched their separate, larger apartments for an 800-square-foot, one-bedroom in Adams Morgan together last December, they first had to do some purging.
“The best thing about moving day is the trash bag,” Abrams says. “You get to go through all that stuff that you just don’t throw out.”
The payoff is usually rewarding. “It’s one of those things — it’s hard to throw it out, but then you don’t miss it,” says Piel, a pharmaceutical sales representative.
Abrams, a systems engineer, admits it was difficult to give up some items.
“You have unjustified attachments to things that if you weren’t moving in with somebody, you wouldn’t care about giving up,” he says. “It’s on principle — I don’t want to give up all my stuff, even though your stuff may be more modern. But you get over that eventually.”
In the end, compromise reigned: Abrams kept his TV and stand, and Piel brought her dining-room table and bedroom furniture.
Annie Elliot, owner of interior design firm Bossy Color in D.C., says that while compromise is key, it’s important that each person keeps some favorites.
“If each person compromises on every single item, nobody’s going to be happy, and I think the new home will lack personality,” she says.
And if war’s erupted over that ragged old chair your special someone just has to keep, outsource the peace talks. “Bring in a neutral third party,” Elliot advises.
If there are duplicate items neither party can part with, sometimes both can work.
“Two sofas facing each other is a great look,” Elliot says.
If each person brings a variety of artwork, Elliot recommends creating a gallery wall, which unites different pieces of art in one space.
Painting walls is another way to incorporate different tastes, as Natalie Foglia, 25, and her boyfriend, Matt Treadgold, 30, recently discovered. They chose the paint colors together before moving into a one-bedroom apartment in Columbia Heights.
Foglia, a program assistant for D.C. Public Schools, advises painting before moving in: “Not having furniture was really helpful.”
Moving can lead to unplanned purchases, too. On moving day, Piel and Abrams discovered her large sofa wouldn’t fit in the apartment.
So they thought on their feet: They dumped the couch at Goodwill and splurged on a new one. In the end, Abrams said, it reinforced their relationship: “It was a testament to our ability to make decisions together and execute.”
That act of buying furniture together can be even more symbolic. “You’re making a home together, so it’s important that you have some pieces that are ‘ours,’ ” Elliot says.
For friends who room together, that isn’t as necessary. In Howell’s case, he bought most of the living-room furniture for their rowhouse.
“I wanted to invest because when I left my old place, I didn’t really have much,” the software product manager says. “And that space is my work space as well, so it’s important for me to be comfortable in that room.”
And all that merging and adapting came with a big bonus for him and his roommates: more centralized social lives. “We have mostly the same friends, so now we can all jointly entertain,” Howell’s roommate Ryan says.
“And we can split the bills on all our parties,” Howell adds.
Ready, or Not?
Deciding to move in together is a big step — both in a relationship and a friendship. So before making any big moves, experts advise having some key conversations first.
Couples therapist Elisabeth LaMotte says couples moving in together should only do so “if they are both truly happy with the state of their relationship and if cohabitation is a step they both feel great about taking together.”
Be honest about your motivations for moving in. LaMotte says that many couples move in together in D.C. to split expensive rents, but that shouldn’t be the only reason.
And, whether it’s couples or friends, it’s important to have a plan for if somebody moves out. “It is uncomfortable to talk about, but if you talk about it ahead of time, at least you’ve put it out there as a possibility,” she says.